How important is design

Why excluding Fashion? I’m guessing we all wore clothes today…

I get my head in a loop about this sometimes

when I see things that are clunky and not very nice looking - like plumbing pipe fittings for example - as a designer all I see is poor quality injection molding, clumsy shapes, and boring/bad appearance. I love the idea that every object could look amazing or at least just nice - but then it strikes me that nobody normally sees the part and it wouldn’t make any sense for the manufacturer to spend money on design.

Then you think, maybe it could justify the expense in greater sales… followed by the argument against that buyers will go for the cheapest part and manufacturers will cut all costs in the race to the bottom.

But then… maybe the engineers could care a little more and take some extra hours to make a part nicer, followed by; Some engineers could do this, but one working at an unglamorous pipe fitting company is not the type to add design details to a part, even if he could do it successfully

then you see a beautify industrial part, like an amazingly designed bolt displayed at Cbit… it just goes round and round

Some products have a business case where clearly design is important and at the other end of the spectrum is parts that are ugly (but could be nicer), but don’t make financial sense for design costs. It’s not the best situation for beautifying the world, but money is what gets a lot of people out of the bed and doing their work, including design. Maybe it would take more design appreciation for kids early in life in order to motivate even adult non-creatives to give their work a little extra

Travismo: Great post. I feel the same way when I see “engineered” parts.

I was just thinking of some of this last week at Rona (Home Depot kind of store in Canada). They have a line of painting and plastering products called “Richard”. It’s a small company out of Trois Rivière, QC. Many of my fellow designers and I have tried to convince them to hire us, even as freelancers and they continually refuse. Meanwhile, their products use far too much plastic, have weak points where you know the plastic will fail and just aren’t as pretty as they could be. Horrible.

Yo!: After the wide availability of cotton clothing, I don’t think that fashion design has added as much value to our lives as other forms of design do on a regular basis. However, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.

Thanks 914!

That paint product almost sounds like cause for pro bono design for the greater good (or at least so you don’t have to look at it anymore in the stores!) I feel your pain though - it’s hard to see things that could be a little better but you can’t really do anything about it

One side of clothing and fashion design seems very aspirational… you dress with styles that portray who you want to be (and who you don’t want to be), which is way beyond just functional design

So we should exclude furniture then?

I hear you. The video that Warren posted by Saul Bass is great. I think it reminds us that it is our job to care about these matters, and we should continue to care whether or not others do, because that is who we are.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned in food. It is pretty easy to get the amount of calories and nutrition you need as fuel for the day at a low cost… yet for many that is not enough to sustain them. Even if a person is not a foodie or a chef, typically they can tell if a meal tastes better. They may not know why (I wouldn’t, I’m not at foodie level yet, but I love a great meal) but there can still be an appreciation, even if only at a subconscious level.

Yo!: Furniture is difficult. Office furniture, ergonomic furniture, proper lighting, etc. is very complicated & adds a lot to the lives of the users. Another marshmellow couch…not much. I’ll include it because I think it 50/50.

Travismo: I posted a couple heinous examples of their crappy products in the Saul Bass thread. The worst part is that they wouldn’t take designers for free. They “know” their product too well.

I would say the same with fashion/apparel, the same with automotive, the same with accessories, pretty much everything. Half of it pushing at least some aspect of the trade or craft further, the other half just provides another thing to sell. I would not exclude fashion at all. Don’t make the mistake of excluding a key and very visible form of design because you are not into it.

in my experience with design, I’ve found you have to choose your battles. Sometimes when you have the opportunity, you can throw extra hours at a project with more potential rather than another - leaving one to ultimately not be ‘as good as it could be’. The ‘more potential’ could be a higher profile product maybe, or something with more potential value for the company. Giving every design our all is in the job spec and our nature, but often the best route is to concentrate on what’s most important in the big picture

A very wise consultancy GM told me once that it’s hard to judge design work at face value. There are a lot of battles that were won and lost during the development, including the need for the client to pay for the work done. Sometimes a design win is to sway a company from making a absolutely terrible product into a decent product by paying for minimal design work, thus setting the stage for them to see the value design brings the company and business. Also, as a consultancy designer your job is to give projects the attention that you have been paid to give them - sometimes at the expense of underfunded but more interesting projects (thought I would still probably give them some extra :wink: ).

It is a tough balance. I tend to run things through the “would I be proud to show this to my mother” filter. If no, keep working, or stop taking on that kind of work… but you are absolutely right about not taking a finished product at face value. Chances are that a designers who were doing the best they could were on it. When I look at my own work, I only see the battle lost and what it could have been or what I would do differently with what I know now. It used to bum me out, but now I see it as a sign that I’ve grown and learned new things. If I ever get to the point where I wouldn’t do a project again differently, I’ll know it is time to stop designing.

As designers, we are generally a dissatisfied lot, because being dissatisfied is what it takes to design new solutions.

That’s pretty bad if they weren’t even interested in some concepts for free! I can imagine the ‘we know best’ type though

maybe you should Kickstart fund, then design and produce a competing product to knock them off their perch :wink:

I have a friend who inherited an injection molding machine from a failed company, and now makes a simple part that sells like crazy in his category. It looks awful, but he does $500k/yr with it. Part of me thinks he’s a hero to see the niche and build a successful business from it. Another part is so disappointed that he resists designing the part to look nicer because it’s selling well now. We’re both right in our perspectives I guess…

Travismo: This is Canada, so the company is still successful. Canada is like a design Bizarro world. People pay more if it looks like it wasn’t designed.

Yo!: I’m sure you watch Mad Men. I love a quote from last season. Draper is talking to Peggy after Glo-Coat gets nominated for an award. “You work so hard to make a great commercial and by the time anyone sees it, it doesn’t it feel like it’s yours” or something like that. Can someone with the DVD correct me? Start of season 4, episode 6.

Unbelievably, I just started watching it last month. Just finished season 1… I love it, but it is hard for me to find time for TV. Draper had some good presentations in the first season, the Kodak one took it for me though.

Whoa, off-the-wall question there 914, not sure how I feel about answering this here, but it is interesting you bring up the Rapture though what with many people claiming it is coming on May 21st, which coincidentally is my birthday…

I thought about framing my answer in terms of a debate about God and the universe and whether or not the Rapture is even a cosmic possibility, but I’ll spare myself from looking like a total loon and keep it framed within a Biblical context, which I have limited knowledge.

My answer is double-edged. Per the Bible God is the father of creation with infinite wisdom. The Bible also professes that God created man in his own image. So, if you combine those two preachings, basically what you get is that to be creative is to be Godly, or close to God. If that is the case then why would God discriminate on religious belief over those that behave in ways most like him? Based on this I would say that God would not leave designers here after the Rapture.


Depending on whether or not God truly does plan to destroy the Earth during the 5 months of the Tribulation or not I would say that to leave behind those that behave most like him would give humanity a fighting chance at survival and to create Heaven on Earth, something else the Bible suggests might be in store.

As an Industrial Designer maybe God sees the Rapture as a way to recall all of the defected Human concepts that only ever did what they were told and didn’t exercise free will in a way that met his objectives. As they say, he works in mysterious ways…

I was wondering where you might go with that one :wink:

Greenman: Wow, you just blew my mind.

I meant it as a joke;)


Nine years later, I stand by my OP. I still haven’t a clue if the benefits outweigh the risks. I see design as truly a human endeavour and I just don’t know if we add value.

We’re about to find out.